Great Blues tone is just an upgrade away. If you are a Telecaster player looking for the best Blues pickups, the below list should point you in the right direction.
Many people think of the Fender Telecaster as a country or rock guitar but the Tele is actually quite good for playing the blues. Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Albert Lee, and many other great blues players played a Telecaster. The combination of the biting, gritty, bridge pickup mixed with the warm, smooth tone of the neck pickup really work together to create the perfect instrument for playing the blues. Right now, we’re going to talk about swapping out the bridge pickup on the Tele for an aftermarket pickup specifically designed with the blues guitarist in mind.
We’ll discuss the differences between each, and what makes them great for creating a blues tone. The pickups in the bridge position of the Tele are known to be pretty twangy so in this post we will likely be looking to fatten up the sound just a bit. We’ll probably be looking at higher output pickups as well, since stock pickups don’t normally put out the higher gain that gets us a better crunch out of our amp, when we’re playing blues. Sound is what matters most though, so you’ll have to listen to the examples of each of these yourself to make the best choice.
Lindy Fralin Blues Special Telecaster
The Fralin Blues Special Telecaster pickups are a great choice for upgrading your Telecaster guitar. They give the bridge pickup a thicker, more full-bodied sound while reducing the treble just a little. These pickups use a beveled ALNICO V magnet for a tighter low end and smoother highs. Each one is 5% over-wound, for a slightly hotter signal that drives the amp a bit harder and gets more crunch. The increased coil windings also increase the pickup’s midrange output, helping to really bring out that blues sound. Each of the Blues Specials is hand wound, with 42 gauge single poly nylon wire and cloth leads, and they use a fiberboard bobbin in the style of vintage pickups from the ’50s.
The Fralin Blues Special Telecaster comes staggered in your choice of Stock Stagger, or Hybrid Stagger. If you get it in a set with the neck pickup it will be calibrated to match each other, and the neck pickup will have a 2% overwind. This pickup has no cover but you can choose the white or black yarn that covers the coil. It’s a direct replacement for the pickups in your Telecaster and no adjustments to the guitar are needed.
Seymour Duncan STK-T3b Vintage Stack Telecaster Bridge Pickup
The Seymour Duncan STK-T3b Vintage Stack Telecaster Bridge Pickup, as the name suggests, is a stacked pickup. A stacked pickup is one pickup physically placed on top of another, giving it humbucking qualities such as noise cancelling, while still fitting into a single coil spot. This pickup is designed to still have all of the twang of the original Telecaster, but in a noise-free pickup. The Seymour Duncan STK-T3b has plenty of shimmer and shine in the highs, and lots of almost piano-like snap in the lows. The passive pickup uses an ALNICO 5 magnet for a slightly brighter tone and it’s also wax potted for reducing microphonic feedback and squeal. They’re installed with a color-coded 4 conductor lead wire.
If you have a neck pickup on your Tele, the Vintage Rhythm Stack (STK-T1n) is designed to pair nicely with the STK-T3b Vintage Stack Telecaster Bridge Pickup for a completely silent instrument. This pickup does not have a plastic cover, instead the coil is covered in a black yarn. Dale Oliver from Blackhawk & Reba McEntire, Matt Hawking from The Edgar Winter Group, as well as many others, use this pickup. The silent operation, along with softer highs and boosted mids, should lend itself very well to the blues.
Lindy Fralin Split Steel Poled Tele Bridge
The Lindy Fralin Split Steel Poled Tele Bridge pickup is a direct replacement for the stock pickups in your Telecaster and you won’t have to make any modifications to the guitar itself. This is a split steel poled pickup, i.e., two coils sitting side by side. The two coil design gives this pickup humbucking qualities that cancel out the noise and leaves you with a crystal clear P90 sound. Warmer and rounder highs and a solid boost in the midrange should put this pickup on any blues players radar. The Split Steel Poled Tele Bridge pickup features adjustable pole pieces to fine tune the way the pickup reacts to each string on the guitar.
There are two versions of the Split Steel Poled pickup: a stock output which has a high output design that drives your amp a little harder, leading to an earlier breakup and crunchier tone, and a -5% output version, which will be clearer and more articulate with more presence in the highs. The pickup only comes in black but you can opt for gold screws. The installation is a simple single hot lead(1 hot, 1 ground) but you can opt for a two hot lead (two hot, one ground) for phase matching.
Seymour Duncan STL-3 Quarter Pound Telecaster Bridge Pickup
The Seymour Duncan STL-3 Quarter Pound Telecaster Bridge Pickup is the company’s highest output pickup available for the Telecaster. The pickup gets its name from its over-sized quarter-inch ALNICO 5 magnets, which are responsible for the great gain that these pickups produce. The hand-polished large-diameter magnets also allow for a special coil winding. The pickup retains its high-end clarity while still delivering plenty of the P90 style growl and midrange tones that are very useful when you’re playing the blues. Each of these pickups is handmade in Santa Barbara, California. They’re wax potted to reduce microphonic feedback and guitar squeal, and they don’t have a plastic cover. Installation is fairly simple with a single conductor wire.
Performers who use this pickup include Cesar Rosas from Los Lobos, Gwyn Ashton, and Michael Sweet of Stryper. This pickup has enough power to keep up with humbuckers and even the Gibson P90, and it’s especially useful when you play with a lot of overdrive or distortion. In a live environment the extra gain produced by the Seymour Duncan STL-3 can help the guitar cut through the mix when you’re playing lead parts and help break up the amp for a nice crunch when you’re playing rhythm.
DiMarzio Pre B-1 Telecaster Bridge Pickup
The DiMarzio Pre B-1 Telecaster Bridge Pickup is a high-output pickup that was specially designed to play the blues way back in 1978. It’s a passive pickup with no cover, and it’s a direct replacement for the stock Tele pickup, requiring no guitar modifications and just a few tools. This pickup is connected with a two conductor wire, and DiMarzio designed it to be grounded without the need for the traditional bottom plate. It uses ALNICO 5 magnets, with no stagger for brighter and more controlled highs, and a more sensitive and responsive pickup.
This is a high-gain pickup that can add more sustain to your tone; a higher gain pickup will drive the amp harder for more crunch at low volumes (and even more crunch at high volumes). The DiMarzio Pre B-1 warms up the highs to remove the ice pick factor, without sacrificing clarity or tonal character, and it boosts the lows and the midrange without getting muddy or muffled. The DiMarzio Pre B-1 Telecaster Bridge Pickup comes only in black.